Written by: Damian Page, MA
Infographic created by: Damian Page, MA & Dr. Todd Cunningham
What is the Road to Reading Infographic?
The goal of reading is comprehension, to infer the meaning of the text. Understanding what we read is a complex skill developed over time through the mastery of many foundational skills. As students learn to read, they are developing both their oral language skills and their ability to decode words. These skills develop in a predictable sequence, starting in kindergarten and continuing into the early elementary school years. As students transition into Grades 3-4, they undergo a significant change in their literacy development in which the focus shifts from learning to read to reading to learn. Students whose literacy skills are not developing at a typical rate can experience academic challenges early on in their schooling that intensify over the years, placing them at significant risk for academic failure. But what if educators could accurately identify the students in their class whose literacy development was not progressing at the same rate as their peers? They could use this information to identify struggling readers and then apply appropriate instructional strategies and interventions to address their students’ reading challenges. This is of course the reason we assess children, but it is important to understand that when we assess reading, we are really assessing a constellation of interrelated skills, all of which contribute to our goal of reading comprehension.
The Road to Reading infographic was designed to provide an easy-to-follow visual overview of the developmental sequence in which foundational literacy skills are acquired in students. Using this developmental scope and sequence, educators can assess foundational literacy skills and through this identify specific areas of weakness that result in reading failure. Educators can then use this knowledge of underlying literacy skill deficits in applying targeted evidence-based instructional strategies to foster the development and mastery of these foundational literacy skills.
How is the Road to Reading Infographic Organized?
The Road to Reading is laid out in a developmental sequence, starting at the top of the page, and winding towards the bottom. The term developmental sequence refers to the order in which these literacy skills are acquired. For example, phonemic awareness is typically acquired before alphabetic principle knowledge and word reading ability. Understanding the developmental scope and sequence of literacy skill acquisition is important because it tells us where we should start looking if our students are struggling in their literacy development.
Literacy research tells us that as students move from kindergarten through to Grade 4 and beyond, they are developing particular literacy skills in a predictable sequence. Early on in the pre-school and kindergarten period, a child’s oral language capacity is developing, and they are increasingly being exposed to concepts of print, (e.g., how to hold a book, text runs from left to write in English, etc.). As students move into Grade 1, they begin to learn the symbols of the English alphabet, connecting them to the sounds they know in their oral vocabulary. Moving into Grades 2-3 students begin to consolidate their understanding of sounds and symbols, learning to decode new words and recognize learned words, all of this building towards the capacity for fluent and accurate reading. Around Grade 4 students shift from learning to read to reading to learn, which continues on into high school, post-secondary education, and beyond. Therefore, if students experience a disruption at any of these developmental stages, they are less likely to reach the end goal of reading comprehension.
Figure 1: Stages of Emergent Literacy (Willows & Chall, 2002)
How do I use the Road to Reading Infographic?
The Road to Reading infographic is built around five core components:
- A visual developmental scope and sequence designed to help educators identify underdeveloped literacy skills in their students
- Descriptions of each foundational literacy skill to help orient teachers to how these skills contribute to the overall goal of reading comprehension
- Recommendations for assessment based on freely available online curriculum-based measures
- Recommendations for instruction based on evidence-based instructional strategies and interventions for each literacy skill
- Expanded appendices, which provide a more detailed elaboration of the brief assessment and instructional tips described on the infographic.
The infographic is designed to offer a quick visual overview of the literacy skills, assessment options, and instructional and intervention strategies an educator should consider when deciding how to address their students delayed literacy development. For early struggling readers, a teacher would start at the top of the infographic and follow the winding road, assessing each skill in a developmental sequence to determine where the skill breakdown has occurred. For older readers, understanding the developmental sequence of literacy skill acquisition is important (see Figure 1). For example, a student in Grade 7 who is struggling to understand what they read would be best assessed with measures of reading comprehension first. If reading comprehension was found to be below the cut point for risk, the teacher would move backwards along the road to the next literacy skill (e.g., reading fluency). In this way, the assessment of reading skills is designed to follow the same developmental pathway in which we expect them to be acquired. Starting at the skill we expect them to have acquired by that grade level and then moving down until we find the foundational literacy skill breakdown.
Alternatively, an educator may assess a student’s reading fluency, and finding it at the benchmark level, move up to the next developmental skill, reading comprehension. The figure below provides a visual overview of the assessment pathway for assessing foundational literacy skills.
Figure 2: Literacy Skill Assessment Pathway
It should be noted that vocabulary growth occurs in parallel with the other foundational literacy skills, particularly word reading, reading fluency, and reading comprehension. Therefore, these higher-order skills (fluency & comprehension) may be multiply compromised by underlying deficits in vocabulary knowledge and decoding ability (alphabet knowledge, word reading).
What are Curriculum-Based Measures?
The assessment of foundational literacy skills using the Road to Reading is accomplished through the use of “curriculum-based measures” (CBMs). CBMs are short, easy to administer tests that allow us to accurately assess the development of particular academic skills and subskills over a period of time. With repeated use of CBMs, we can plot a student’s progress over a time course and compare their scores to curriculum-based norms. Through this, we can determine if a student’s literacy development is progressing typically or is at risk of failure.
The figure below depicts scores for an oral reading fluency measure, one of many different measures that can be used to assess literacy development. The benchmark scores represent the performance we would expect a student in that grade, at that time point to achieve. The cut-point scores represent a level of performance that would indicate a delayed development of that skills and a potential for reading failure. Using these scores as goal posts, we plot our student’s scores on this CBM at the time point it was administered and determine if their reading skill development is below where we would expect and therefore warrants intervention.
Figure 3: Assessing Skill Development with CBMs
In addition to monitoring skill development, CBMs can tell us if the instructional strategies or interventions we are using are working as intended. Once we have identified students who are struggling in their literacy skill development, we apply the appropriate literacy interventions and instructional strategies to remediate that underlying skill deficit. But it is not enough to apply these interventions and hope that they will be effective in improving our student’s literacy development. Continual progress monitoring is required to determine if the intervention we apply is working as intended. The graphs below illustrate how progress monitoring through CBMs can be used to refine and maximize the effectiveness of interventions.
The graphs below (Figure 4) display two progress monitoring time courses for two students undergoing a reading intervention. In the first graph (Child 1), we see that the student’s oral reading fluency scores follow a flat trajectory with minimal improvement in their reading fluency achieved by the end of the intervention. Graph 2 below (Child 2), depicts a different scenario. In this case, the student’s stagnant skill growth was identified through the use of progress monitoring CBMs and at week 12 a change was made to the intervention. Maybe the intervention increased in frequency or intensity, whatever the case we see that this tweak resulted in a steeper incline of improvement between weeks 12 and 13. This tells us the intervention modification had the desired effect in accelerating the student’s skill growth. However, by week 16 we see that the student’s skill development has once again stalled. But, through the use of our CBMs, we can respond flexibly to this skill growth stagnation and again modify the intervention as needed. By the end of the second student’s intervention, there is a rapid acceleration in skill growth, which tells us that the intervention modifications were successful in making the intervention maximally effective for that student.
Figure 4: Progress Monitoring and Intervention Modification
Thanks & Comments!
This literacy resource was designed with the help and expertise of the graduate students and members of the Academic Intervention Lab under the guidance of Dr. Todd Cunningham. We hope it provides you with some measure of utility in addressing the literacy needs of your students. If you have questions or comments on how it could be improved in the future, we would love to hear your feedback!
You may contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
About the Authors:
Damian Page is a doctoral student in the School and Clinical Child Psychology program at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto. His research explores mental health literacy in schools and the early identification of emerging mental health issues in students. Damian’s current doctoral research explores the impact of mental health literacy training on pedagogy and mental health referral decisions.
Dr. Todd Cunningham is a clinical and school psychologist, Assistant Professor, Chair of the School and Clinical Child Psychology program at the University of Toronto. His research investigates the support of students with learning difficulties from assessment to interventions. Projects involve looking at new techniques in psychological assessments, evaluation of assistive technology, professional development in literacy and numeracy, and telepsychology.